Mark Stewart: The Scala, London – live reviewMark Stewart

London Scala

March 25th 2012

Mark Stewart has this endless punch line that he peppers conversations with, a slip of the tongue is greeted with a Bristolian cackle and an exclamation of ‘that’s what she said last night’. It’s stupidly hilarious and breaks down the heavy manners intensity of his work which is attractively dark and railing against the vicious corporate machine. It’s a powerful message that is underlined live with his preacher man intensity and band of brilliant musicians who utilize cutting edge beats to create a whole new soundscape.

Live there is no time for comedy one liners  and tonight’s set is a fierce and hypnotic take on his brilliant current album,  ‘The Politics Of Envy’, with stand out politically motivated songs including ‘Nothing Is Sacred’ and ‘Vanity Kills’ setting the tone for a set that takes the battle to the sonic frontline.

This is a music like no other, reference points go through the window but no matter what musical boundary Mark Stewart is traversing he always has this great trick of leaving the music hanging and then collapsing back in on itself. It sounds great and adds to the tension of the songs.

Tonight at the Scala is a great rush of ideas, with a music that has the clipped dynamics of the punk funk which he invented all those years ago in the Pop Group cranked through some dub and bass bottom end wobble and rattling rhythms that are totally original, finding a new space in an overcrowded world of music, exploring new ideas and all the time placing them into a new context with that voice that is part guttural neo rap and part swooning rush and always really intense.

There is a political anger and a well read take down of the world’s woes. Mark Stewart was the Bristol wide boy who devoured books and thought about everything too much and saw the world for what it is. He is now an out of control maverick who creates a music that is like no other.

His pop culture antennae are ever twitching and have brought him to the flexing rhythms of dub step and post step and he has incorporated these into his sound without ever losing the focus of the stripped down sensibility  and the intensity of being one of the punk originals.

The set is built around his recently released album and is an exploration into the possibilities of modern music, not being one of those grumpy old men who has declared that culture is over Mark Stewart is listening to the multi rhythms of our modern cities and of our modern world and connecting with the genius way that the human race can keep on reinventing the beat and creating new ways to dance.

The live gig is like a fast forward through the 21st century jive, the multi rhythms of these times blasting out of the windows of the pan global music, the band takes the rhythms to build a new sound scape which is perfectly mixed by Adrian Sherwood, who is at the controls- some of the dub scapes he creates are breath taking and some of the effects he is using on the vocals make a sound like no other. In the middle of this sonic maelstrom is Mark Stewart himself  is a big physical presence, flailing around his lanky frame personifying the music- part preacher, part political protestor – a one man megaphone on a search and destroy mission against the tyranny of capitalism gone mad and the war machine that picks fights with anyone that moves.

Stewart is the charismatic, shamanic presence and when Bobby Gillespie joins him for their single, ‘Autonomia’, written about Carlo Giuliani, who was killed during a G8 protest in Genoa in 2001, there are suddenly two of them attacking from different angles, Stewart the ranting high priest of agit funk and Bobby Gillespie is the reborn yelping rock n roll firebrand.

This was the first time Bobby Gillespie and Scream guitarist Andrew Innes – who is jamming out a great atonal guitar line on the song- had played together all year, their last live appearance  was Primal Scream’s New Year gig in Edinburgh, their last ever gig with bassist Mani, who left to re-join The Stone Roses.

Gillespie and Stewart make a great team of rock n roll agitators. Bobby seems to always be onstage in the Scala- the last time I saw him here he was singing with the Clash on the Justice Tonight tour in December and tonight he has retained  that bite that saw him reborn at that gig- it’s a timely reminder of the potent power of the dark experimental Primal Scream and a sharp reminder of the band’s potential to make great underground rock n roll to somehow take into the mainstream.

They return for the encore and have to play the single again as Mark Stewart has run out of songs and at this point diving into the crowd to sort a fight, as ever practicing what he preaches and preaching what he practises in a gig that is a triumphant night and a lesson in the art of protest music.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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